Pritchett campaign focuses on taxes, accessibilityIncumbent runs on experience
Rockland — Larry Pritchett acknowledges the property tax rate in Rockland is too high, but said progress has been made in his present term on the City Council in health care and energy efficiency.
Pritchett, who is running for re-election on the Nov. 5 ballot, said he wants to continue to move toward stable tax rate budgeting.
The candidate, who lives on Brewster Street, is running for one of two seats available on the council along with Louise MacLellan-Ruf and Hal Perry. As part of his campaign, he describes himself as an experienced leader and a voice of reason on the council.
By 2010, Pritchett says, the city had the highest property tax rate of any town in seven of eight coastal counties.
"When I ran three years ago, I said that I would work to ensure that City Hall streamlines government and provides quality services for your tax dollars," he wrote in a campaign statement. "In '13, Council approved a budget that did not raise taxes, even though the state kept $280,000 of local sales taxes that usually are returned to the city."
In an interview Sept. 30, he said the city has made progress in a number of areas that may keep taxes from going up.
City employees are gradually paying a larger percentage of their health insurance costs, for one.
Pritchett noted he has worked to help the library building reduce its energy use by 60 percent. He said the city is also changing its vehicle and equipment purchase policy so that each vehicle is assessed based on its mileage and maintenance record and giving a priority listing. This prevents the city from making expensive purchases before they are needed.
In the past, Pritchett said, the city has always relied on loans and taking on debt to pay for capital purchases rather than building up cash reserves. City government is now working to change that and get out of the debt-driven cycle.
Pritchett said he is running for re-election so he can continue work on projects started during his tenure.
The candidate is self-employed, doing water quality assessment work. He said he was one of the lead people involved in the shellfish restoration project in Thomaston.
"On the St. George River, I collaborated with state and local officials, as well as community organizations, to put dozens of clammers back to work and end water pollution that kept $1.5 million of clams off the market," he writes in his campaign materials.
He said his job has given him a lot of experience working with elected boards on highly technical and complicated issues. That helps qualify him for the work of a city councilor, he reasoned.
That experience has also helped him learn to sort through competing ideals and interests, he said. While he starts a project or discussion with an end in mind, he is open to other viewpoints.
"I'm always listening to what other people say and what other information is," he said. "...Part of what's wrong with politics in Augusta and Washington is that people are too entrenched."
He adds that as a councilor, he does not feel he is elected to represent a narrow set of interests within the city. Instead, he serves the city as a whole.
"Rockland did away with the wards years ago," he said. "We're all elected by the whole city."
When it comes to businesses in town, Pritchett said he has been very accessible to Main Street business owners and has gotten them answers to their questions.
His father ran a hardware store in a small town in Georgia when Pritchett was growing up, so he understands the challenges these business owners are facing, he said.
Asked what should be done in the wake of Wal-Mart moving to Thomaston, Pritchett argues the same issues need to be addressed regardless of what the department store is doing.
He said Old County Road was not constructed properly to serve as a bypass and has not received the priority status it should from the state. Meanwhile, he sees problems with traffic and pedestrian access on Camden Street.
"I think it's appropriate for the city to move forward on both of those," he said. "How is a little unclear at the moment. We're very focused on trying to get the state to relook at how it classifies Old County Road."
He sees Camden Street Redevelopment as a likely project in his second term.
Asked about the Brass Compass using part of Winslow-Holbrook Park for outdoor seating and tables, Pritchett said he believes the city's present lease agreement with owner Lynn Archer is working. He added he would like to see improvements to the park.
The Brass Compass Cafe was allowed to use a 10-foot-wide portion of the park this summer. The city council voted to raise the price to $1,500 this year for this use of the park at the corner of Park and Main streets. During discussions in the spring, Pritchett spoke in favor of raising the fee from the $1,200 charged the year before.
The use was opposed by local veterans and relatives of the men the park was named for.
He said it may make sense to extend the approval to a formal, multi-year agreement with Brass Compass.
"So long as it's what would be considered a market rate value for the space in as tightly constrained to the area along the Brass Compass and doesn't impede on other uses of the park," he said.
In terms of zoning, he said he would like to see it improved along the boundaries where commercial zones intersect with residential zones. He would like to see gradual steps put in place so that there are perhaps more restrictions on what can be done in a boundary area than a block away in the heart of a commercial zone.
He said home occupations could use clarification since a lot of people work out of their homes.
"It's uneven now," he said.
The candidate said it would be a mistake not to maintain a focus on working waterfront in Rockland because it would alter the economy and nature of the city to move too far away from that.
He said he does not want increased visits from large cruise ships to push Rockland toward short-term seasonal businesses seen in Bar Harbor or Boothbay, noting Rockland's downtown is active in fall and into the Christmas season.
However, he does not see much danger of that. He said there is no question of Rockland ever turning into Bar Harbor due to physical constraints on large cruise ships visiting the harbor. Only one ship can visit at a time now, he argued.
"There's no place to put them," he said.
He feels the fees cruise ships pay to use the harbor should be consistent up and down the coast.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or email@example.com.
207 594-4401 ext. 122
Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.